When we are physically well and our body is in good shape the impact of the stress upon us will be far less than it would if we were unfit. With a well-tuned body we are better able to handle the demands of life, express ourselves and project our personality and needs. Indeed, it could be said that the body is a barometer, measuring the degree to which we are functioning effectively. When we are unfit this not only makes it more difficult to cope with the many pressures upon us, but it also adds to the levels of stress we experience.
When we hold onto external stress, whether physical or psychological, it is manifested as “tension” in the body. Its impact upon us may be imperceptible. We may not even be aware that we are holding on to stress at all. Sometimes, the first sign that indicates an accumulation of internalised stress is a noticeable increase in clumsiness and poor co-ordination. At a more subtle level, rigidity is present and the free flow of movement is inhibited. Energy levels, too, may be noticeably impeded, as we may feel lethargic (slowed) or agitated (hyper-arousal).
If we are unable to release the build up of internalised tension this can result in headaches, tightness (often neck and shoulders), aches and pains (commonly stomach or lower back), the immune system can become deficient and we are more susceptible to colds and illness. Likewise, even symptoms such as dry hair, skin rashes and poor sleep patterns frequently result from internalised stress and tension.
Stress is such a common feature of everyday life as to be regarded as “normal” and while this is true to some extent, stress levels are definitely up and the demands on us now are far greater than ever before in human history. Most of us can adapt to moderate levels of stress, particularly short-term, but so often though, the result is ill-health. Anything from colds and flu, to Angina, heart attack, conditions like depression, even cancer, has been linked to stress.
Underpinning the symptoms of stress can be unresolved trauma, or sudden shock, and similarly there may have been a build up or accumulation of stress over a long period. Stress can arise as the result of internalised emotion such as anger, guilt or worry. Whatever the cause, the important thing to do is to listen to the body and identify causative factors and then work to release the excess stress which gives rise to muscular tension. The body can then begin to return to a more harmonious and balanced state.
Touch is something which is often absent from many peoples lives and it can be very healing. We actively need to be touched for our emotional health. This need is more than simply a desire. It is a physiological necessity that, if unsatisfied can have profound psychological effects. Research has shown that even a 30 minute neck and back massage can reduce depression. It can lower levels of stress related hormones and make people more alert, less restless and able to enjoy deeper, more restful sleep.
The mode of body therapy that I practise is known as pulsing. In my opinion it is particularly well suited to promoting emotional well-being. It is a very effective and gentle mode of bodywork with its emphasis on listening to the body and working directly with the natural rhythms and movement; assisting the free flow of energy and working to restore the natural resting state which occurs when the body is at ease. Pulsing utilises gentle, rhythmic rocking movements to facilitate the release of stress, either on the physical, psychological or emotional level. Amid continual rhythmic rocking the client is transported to a place of blissful peace and tranquillity, reminiscent, perhaps, of the womb or being rocked in a parent’s arms. The ebb and flow of the breath is mirrored in purposeful movements, sometimes subtle and barely perceptible, other times lively and bold. With no strain whatsoever, the body is moved gently through natural pathways, promoting mobility and encouraging relaxation and openness. The wave-like movements bring about very deep relaxation as muscular tension is eased.
Clients learn how to recognise physical tension and how to let it go. Often in so doing, emotional pain will be released and equilibrium will be restored along with a deepened sense of vitality and peace. At the hands of an experienced practitioner, the gentle rhythmic movement can leave you feeling like you are dancing on a cushion or air. As you learn to let go of bodily stress you will be better prepared to move forward and face life’s challenges.
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Until next time.
With best wishes, Steve.
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Steve Clifford, Psychotherapist and body worker.
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Alexander J. (2001) Mind, Body ,Spirit, Carlton Books, London.
Kirsta A. (1987) The book of stress survival, Gaia Books Ltd, London.